Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Odegaard has to do more, but it’s time to give him the chance

It’s been quite interesting that this season we’ve seen so much focus on the Arsenal of the future and the signing of so many young players, but in recent weeks the most high profile arrival of the summer has played a bit-part role.

I don’t necessarily buy into all the arguments about our team selection on Saturday at Anfield giving us a chance to see what the new boys can do, because the reality is that most of them are now first choice players anyway. Aaron Ramsdale is our number one goalkeeper; Takehiro Tomiyasu is first choice right back and Ben White is the same at centre-half. In midfield, it was Albert Sambi Lokonga – whose future is assured – ahead of Ainsley Maitland-Niles over whom there remains some doubt.

At left back Nuno Tavares was preferred to Kieran Tierney, and perhaps it was a decision to assess what he was made of in a big game, but I think it was more that he’d done well and didn’t ‘deserve’ to be dropped. I thought he did fine, but the mistakes and the subsequent impact it had on him were a by-product of his inexperience. Despite the fact I think it was a game too far for him, there’s no doubt he looks an exciting prospect. The flaws on display shouldn’t take too much to iron out of his game, so it’s not to be critical of him. I just think Tierney is a better option right now.

Further forward though, Alexandre Lacazette has jumped ahead of Martin Odegaard in the pecking order in recent weeks. The Frenchman hadn’t played a great deal until the Crystal Palace game where he came on, really added something to the frenetic final stages, and scored a late, late equaliser to get something from the game. He has since started every Premier League game since, relegating the Norwegian to the bench.

When you pay £35m to Real Madrid for a playmaker, a creative, attacking midfielder, and someone with a real reputation, you expect to see that player in the team pretty much straight away. However, it’s fair to say that this season we’ve yet to see the best of Odegaard. I don’t know if there has been an injury niggle or something behind the scenes, but beyond his match-winning free kick against Burnley, he hasn’t reached the level I had expected.

It’s early days in the season still, just 12 Premier League games played, and there’s plenty of football to come between now and May. There is a short-termism to football analysis these days which is quite funny really. The Tavares/Tierney situation is a case in point. After the Portuguese came in and played a couple of good games, you couldn’t move for the ‘Is this the end for Tierney?’ stuff, and after Tavares had a difficult night at Anfield, it had flipped to the ‘Doesn’t this show that true king is Tierney?!’ stuff.

It’s understandable, because while football clubs, managers, technical directors, plans and strategies can all be part of a medium/long-term thing, football itself exists in the short-term. In 90 minutes all the positivity in the world can be turned into negativity, and vice versa. It can be hard to separate oneself from that, to step back and look at things objectively.

So, if we’re building a team for the future – which is the plan we all think is being implemented at Arsenal – is it time to really embrace that? Do we gain more from Martin Odegaard being on the pitch than Alexandre Lacazette? Clearly the manager likes the connection between Laca and Aubameyang, two great friends who do have a relationship and an understanding. There’s also no doubt Lacazette brings a certain kind of physicality to that role behind the striker, and uses his body well to win free kicks.

I just don’t think it’s quite enough for any player in that position though. That role is important for connectivity and enabling attacking moves to continue/flow as we reach that area of the opposition half. On the ball, he can produce some excellent stuff – he played the best pass of the night at Anfield on Saturday to create a chance for Auba – but I don’t think he has quite enough craft. Against Watford, for example, a game we dominated in terms of possession (with 61% of possession), he completed just 12 passes of 19 attempted.

There are also fitness issues. In the four starts he’s played 68′, 58′, 69′, and 67′. Odegaard has been his replacement in each game, and for me he had an influential role in the Leicester game, helping to ease the second half pressure, and against Watford he’d have made the game with a really nice goal if it weren’t for Aubameyang’s daft desire to make up for his missed penalty.

The bottom line for me is that in the four starts he’s made of late, Lacazette hasn’t scored a goal or made an assist (he did win a penalty but we can’t credit a striker with Danny Rose’s wrestling move stupidity). I’m not saying he hasn’t contributed, but this is a team short on chance creation and goalscoring, and in that regard he hasn’t made the impact you’d like from a player in that role. So when we face Newcastle on Saturday, with a real need to bounce back from the defeat at Anfield, I hope we give Odegaard that job. Again, he hasn’t been great this season, but he’s 22, and we’ve invested in him for the next five years; Lacazette is out of contract soon and will leave next summer.

There’s still football for him, when Auba goes off to AFCON he’s the obvious replacement, but he’s had a chance in the last few weeks and done ok. No more than that for me. As a team, I think we need more, and if we were sufficiently convinced to pay Real Madrid £35m for Odegaard, having had plenty of time to get to know him last season, he’s the obvious choice. He has to step up and do more, no doubt about it, but if we’re really going to embrace the future, let’s do that completely, and not half-arse it a bit because we stumbled across something which was just serviceable for a few games.

Right, let’s leave it there for now. Your opinions/comments always welcome in the Arses, of course. I suspect this might be a busy one today!

Catch you tomorrow.

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